Sunday, August 25, 2013

Put 'em Up! Fruit: A Preserving Guide & Cookbook

Put 'em Up! Fruit: A Preserving Guide & Cookbook
Publisher: Storey Publishing, LLC (2013)

There is nothing like cracking into a jar of homemade jam. For years, we have been able to enjoy the bounty of the Spring and Summer year-round thanks to the ancient practice of preserving berries, tomatoes, stone fruit and more. While today it seems like produce has no seasonality thanks to imports and greenhouses, canning has the unique quality of being able to consistently provide the taste and nutrition of fruit and vegetables in their prime. This, and the ever-stronger movement towards frugal and honest food, is perhaps the reason canning is enjoying a resurgence with a new generation of professional and home cooks. Nobody understands this “young love” better than author Sherri Brooks Vinton, whose previous work Put Em Up! introduced preserving both fruits and vegetables with approachable, decadent style. Now she’s back with another installment – Put 'em Up! Fruit: A Preserving Guide & Cookbook: Creative Ways to Put 'em Up, Tasty Ways to Use 'em Up – and it is just as packed with tempting goodies.

As it’s name implies, Put Em Up! Fruit is exclusively about the home preservation of, well, fruit. Beyond berries and applesauce (though there are those too), Brooks Vinton also includes recipes for more unusual varieties such as grapefruit, quince and rhubarb. Each of the 17 types of fruit have a few options for preserving, from canning and freezing to drying, plus suggestions on how to really make them your own. While many of the preserves in Put Em Up! Fruit are jams, the book also has a wealth of savoury sauces and gastriques, cordials and cocktails too. It’s easy to picture using parts of this book at every meal, not to mention proudly giving away jars of your work over the holidays!

Of course, there is no point in canning all these glorious things if you have no idea what to do with them all afterwards. Brooks Vinton solves this issue too, providing an array of 80 “use up” recipes. From Broiled Pork Chops with Apricot Glaze (p. 71) to Pear Soup (p. 197) and (my personal favourite) Flourless Chocolate Cake with Strawberry Rhubarb Jam (p. 242), there is no excuse to have any of the preserves languish in your pantry!

As casual and friendly as Put Em Up! Fruit is on the surface, it should be noted that Brooks Vinton takes her craft seriously and spares no space documenting the safest and most rewarding methods for canning at home. Part One, at just over 30 pages, is a must-read for anyone new to preserving and is worth reviewing if (like me) you are a Summer-only canner. The section covers Keys to Success (i.e. only use fruit that’s ripe and preferably local, definitely not anything past it’s prime), a handy glossary, basic boiling-water bath methodology, ingredient roles in recipes, syrups, ingredient preparations, and of course, discussion of the all-important pectin. If you run into trouble along the way, a browse of Put Em Up! Fruit’s Troubleshooting section answers many of the common canning issues out there. In addition, the book includes three pages of Resources in the back, giving readers no reason to shy away from the craft due to lack of equipment.
Five Spice Plum Sauce
Five Spice Plum Sauce (p. 214)

I couldn’t wait to try out some of the recipes in Put Em Up! Fruit, especially since I planned to give homemade food gifts out again at Christmas. I’m a fairly seasoned canner, but I usually make my jams and jellies with pectin rather than relying on the “gel test” method used with sugar-only recipes. That said, the Five Spice Plum Sauce (p. 214) was relatively simple to put together, although I wound up requiring far more liquid than stated in the recipe. The Strawberry Balsamic Glaze (p. 246) was more akin to the recipe’s wording though, and the gourmet flavours were just as simple to put together. While I “cheated” and used my dehydrator for the Berry Apple Leather (p. 88), I loved the method Brooks Vinton used to make the puree and her reasoning for using apples – they are a neutral, pectin-rich base that helps “stretch” the more expensive berries and give the sheet of puree structure. Since the first batch from the book, I have used the same principles for a variety of “fruit roll ups” at home, and not once have I had an issue. I’ve bookmarked a handful of other scrumptious-looking recipes for future projects, but since I’m running out of jars (and much of the fruit is out of season now), they will have to wait till next year.

Strawberry Balsamic Shellac
Strawberry Balsamic Glaze (p. 246)
Whether you’re brand new to canning or regularly fill your pantry with jars of seasonal goodness, Sherri Brooks Vinton tempts the palate and the imagination with her creations. Put 'em Up! Fruit: A Preserving Guide & Cookbook: Creative Ways to Put 'em Up, Tasty Ways to Use 'em Up has a wealth of information, easy to follow recipes and use-ups that allow everyone to become a gourmet in their own kitchen, without the fuss (or price-tag) of a fancy restaurant.

Available on Amazon

Thursday, August 8, 2013

A Perfect Day for a Picnic

A Perfect Day for a Picnic
Author: Tori Finch
Publisher: Ryland Peters & Small (2013)

The Summer is filled with the makings of delicious experiences. The farmers’ markets open, packed with the best, freshest fruit and vegetables the local growers have to offer. The sun and beaches call to cottagers and boaters, while the U-pick farms and home gardens are rife with amateur harvesters filling their baskets with produce. Even the animals feast during the warm months, the pastures filled with sweet clover and tender grasses. With such decadence available in the fresh air, who would want to stay inside to eat? Packing a picnic has never been easier or more flavourful thanks to Tori Finch’s book A Perfect Day for a Picnic.

Picnic takes the concept of eating outdoors and turns it into an event. With 10 different variations, from Bohemian to Luxe (and even one for Teddy Bears!) filled with 80 recipes, it’s almost impossible to become bored! Of course, the pairings of themes and recipes are really just guidelines – if a certain food and a certain style tickle your fancy, go for it! Finch also provides useful information on “setting the scene”, be it using lanterns and exotic fabrics to create a Gypsy-like Bohemian look or spreading out gingham blankets and packing wine glasses for a more Provenรงal feel. Notes on choosing your overall menu and (more importantly) packing it are also scattered in Picnic’s full-colour pages. Georgia Glynn Smith does a fantastic job of bringing each theme to life through her photos, and the book itself looks like it would be at home on an elegant coffee table.

Unlike most “coffee table literature”, however, Picnic is a book designed to use and enjoy results from. While it has been over a decade since my last picnic experience, many of the recipes begged for me to make them for alfresco dining at home. Unfortunately, the recipes turned out to be a bit of hit and miss – the Spiced Citrus Couscous (p.28) was a hit after we cut the oil in half and nixed the onion garnish, being far too oily and muted as written. The Rainbow Slaw (p. 73) was also delicious, although nowhere near as attractive as in it’s photograph. However, the Courgette & Vintage Cheddar Quiche (p. 106) took 10 minutes longer to set than the recipe stated, and even then it was relatively soft and missing seasoning – thyme or tarragon would have greatly helped to lighten the salty sharpness of the cheese and the rich dairy. Finally, the recipe my sister, mom and I were looking forward to most – Gooey Triple Chocolate Brownies (p. 74) – were so greasy after baking that I wound up blotting it four times with paper towel. In the fridge, they set rock hard and upon tasting them it seemed like all the moisture had baked out, along with any flavour but sweet. Thankfully, microwaving pieces slightly (with a drizzle of dark chocolate sauce) softened them enough to eat, and when chopped up they made decent additions to French Vanilla ice cream and plain Greek yoghurt.

(Not So) Gooey Triple Chocolate Brownies
Gooey Triple Chocolate Brownies (p. 74)

As a gorgeous addition to the bookshelf with lots of ideas for hosting your own moveable feast, A Perfect Day for a Picnic fits the bill perfectly. However, it is weak as a proper cookbook and the recipes should be approached with a pre-existing knowledge of what the food should look like while being prepared, not simply on a lavishly decorated table. With such a Summer-tinged palette of opportunity at our disposal, I wish Tori Finch had packed a little extra flavour in her basket.
Available on Amazon